Though Sir Alex Ferguson’s allegiances at boardroom level at Manchester United have recently been brought into question by some, there can be no doubting that, at least publicly, the club’s most successful manager ever knows full well where his bread is buttered.
Ferguson has consistently lent his support to the Glazers’ ownership of United, even going so far as to describe them as ‘excellent’. Excellent despite the precarious financial situation at Old Trafford and debts exceeding £700m, as revealed in the Glazers’ own bond prospectus released in January.
Now, in light of United’s signing of Mexican striker Javier Hernandez, Sir Alex has even reverted to using the Glazers’ own business-speak, explaining that the 21-year-old’s age was a crucial factor in the deal:
“We like doing these kind of deals where we can identify young talent. We have been good at that over the years,” Ferguson commented. “There is the odd exception when we get a mature player, like Berbatov.”
“When you sign a player for that kind of money you know there is not going to be a resale value if he stays with you for six years.”
There it is. Resale value. Spoken like a true banker.
Is ‘resale value’ now a consideration for Ferguson when considering ways in which to improve his playing squad? Since when did one of the biggest, most profitable and most marketable clubs in the world have to take into account ‘resale value’ when doing business in the transfer market?
And all on a day when Manchester United reportedly turned down the chance to sign one of the world’s best strikers – David Villa – because of the £35 million asking price. Nevermind the £80 million brought in for Cristiano Ronaldo, then. At 28, of course, Villa has barely any ‘resale value.’
Has this always been an issue for Ferguson? Or is the potential to sell players on at a profit only a recent addition to United’s transfer policy?
Here is a look at some of United’s ‘odd exceptions’ as Ferguson puts it – players signed with little resale value since 1998. These are players signed either at a ‘mature’ age (over 25 we’ll say) or for a price you would reasonably consider could not be improved upon or equalled after the 6 years service Sir Alex mentions:
Transfers in – 1998:
Jaap Stam (£10.6m at 26 – then record purchase for a defender)
Dwight Yorke (£12.6m at 26)
Fabien Barthez (£7.8m at 29)
Ruud van Nistelrooy (£19m at 25)
Juan Sebastien Veron (£28.1m at 26)
Rio Ferdinand (£30m at 23)
Ricardo (£1.5m at 30)
Louis Saha (£12.8m at 25)
Alan Smith (£7m at 24…I’ll allow it)
Gabriel Heinze (£6.9m at 26)
Edwin Van der Sar
Michael Carrick (£18.6m at 25)
Owen Hargreaves (£17m (rumoured) at 26)
Dimitar Berbatov (£30.75m at 27)
Ritchie De Laet
Luis Antonio Valencia
Mame Biram Diouf
Total transfers: 45
Players with little resale value: 16 (35%)
Transfers pre-Glazers: 25
Players with little resale value: 11 (44%)
Transfers during Glazer regime: 20
Players with little resale value: 5 (25%)
As you can see, in real terms the amount of players with little to no resale value under the Glazers is decreasing. Is this perhaps as a result of newfound emphasis on a ‘buy and sell for profit’ transfer policy?
It all points to a fairly unavoidable conclusion. Under the Glazers, Manchester United’s belt is tightening and the emphasis on players with ‘resale value’ is increasing. Those of a business mind might see this as a good thing, encouraging even. Running a tighter ship while keeping the team successful can be interpreted as an admirable business model, if players can be identified early, utilised effectively and sold on at a profit.
But, as we repeat time and again as far as football clubs are concerned, football is not simply a business. If you are in the top 3 most bankable clubs in world football, with the highest gate receipts and an £80 million hole burning your pocket, why the need for even Sir Alex Ferguson – the one man who should be concerned with acquiring top players and little else – to consider the amount he can make on a player six years into the future?
It doesn’t add up.